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Group to banks: Clean up abandoned homes

Public urged to attend meeting

July 31, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

If you are a Lehigh Acres resident and taxpayer, then you, like thousands of other residents of Lehigh, can't help but notice all the abandoned homes, many with knee-high grass and untrimmed shrubs in nearly every neighborhood in Lehigh.

That's the word today from One Voice spokeswoman Ruth Ann Anglickis.

She said Lehigh residents, businesses and homeowners who keep neat and attractive lawns are tired of seeing what is happening to Lehigh.

"It is becoming the most blighted part of Lee County and we as residents of our great community can't let this continue. We have to speak up as a community all of us- to our county commissioners to bring an immediate stop to what is happening now, not tomorrow, but now," Anglickis said from her office at Landex Resorts International on Homestead Road.

For the past several weeks, Anglickis and others from organizations throughout Lehigh are emailing copies of letters to folks and asking them to read them, sign them and send them to the county commissioners who will take up the issue through a discussion of establishing an Abandoned/ Vacant Property Registration Ordinance, which has come to be called VPR Ordinance.

"We have 2,782 foreclosed homes still in Lehigh Acres and the banks are not foreclosing timely and problems are being exacerbated," said Anglickis, who is a spokeswoman for One Voice, a group of all the organizations who want to see an improved vision of the community.

The Lee County Commission will take up discussions on a proposed ordinance to put responsibility on the banks to clean up their properties, to make them presentable while foreclosure proceeds.

"We're seeing broken windows, knee-high to waist-high weeds in yards in abandoned homes all over Lehigh. It's disheartening to the residents of our great community and it is time for the people to come together as "One Voice" and let the commissioners know the banks and other lending institutions who are ending up with these properties become responsible.

The VCR ordinance is on the agenda at the Lee County Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 13 and Anglickis hopes several people will show up and be ready to address the commission about what is happening to Lehigh because of these abandoned homes.

"On behalf of One Voice (a division of Lehigh Acres Economic Development board), we are sending you information concerning an ordinance we would like to see adopted by the Lee County Commission on behalf of Lehigh Acres and all of Lee County in order to help eliminate some of the blight that has occurred because of abandoned properties," states a One Voice email sent out to many Lehigh residents who belong to organizations, churches, clubs and those who own businesses.

Accompanying this article is a boxed communication form that readers can sign and send to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, 2115 Second St., Fort Myers, FL 33901.

Anglickis said the board will review a new ordinance at their regular meeting in the Commission Chambers at 9 a.m. on Aug. 13.

"We encourage as many as possible to show up, as Lehigh residents have done in the past, to show our presence. When you get there, you are allowed to sign a card and speak in favor of the commission passing this ordinance.

"It is important to stand up for Lehigh Acres support you can offer to clean up our area," Anglickis said. "If your friends and neighbors are not aware of this ordinance, tell them about what is happening and seek their help and support. We all speak for all of us in Lehigh," Anglickis said.

Anthony DiMarco, the executive vice president of the Florida Bankers Association, is fighting the passage of such an ordinance, claiming in a memo that the group on behalf of its nearly 250 members opposes the proposed Lee County Abandoned/ Vacant Property Registration Ordinance "because it is contrary to and preempted by state law, it over reaches and it is ambiguous."

However, a memorandum from the Office of County Attorney takes an opposing view and says the proposed ordinance is not contrary to state law.

Dawn E. Perry-Lehnert, assistant county attorney, recently wrote the Lee County Commission to the attention of Cecil Pendergrass, its present chairman, that the proposed ordinance is not over reaching as claimed by the bankers' group. And the proposed ordinance is not ambiguous, she says.

Attorney Perry-Lehnert backs us each claim with detailed information which should prove useful to the five-member board of county commissioners, Anglickis said.

Anglickis noted that abandoned homes have been broken into, windows have been broken, door screens left hanging in many areas, and weeds high enough to hide dangerous snakes and other vermin.

She noted that the recent rains have added to the intolerable situation and caused fast growth which has made abandoned homes nothing but a blight on Lehigh. One Voice intends to stand up and fight, hoping others in Lehigh will join them, when the matter comes up before the county commission.

In the letter, Lehigh residents are asking the county to hold foreclosing lenders responsible for securing and maintaining properties during the foreclosure process and subjecting those that refuse too, to penalties for non-compliance.

Commissioners are being told that far too long banks have been allowed to deny their role and responsibility in the mortgage foreclosure tragedy that has befallen this country and our county.

Commissioners are being told that the banks have only been concerned about their own bottom line, while disregarding their community responsibility.

The passage of such an ordinance should stabilize property values and reduce crime in Lehigh, One Voice has noted.

"We are hoping that the people of Lehigh are sick of it all. We all live in this community and it is our right to hold the banks responsible because they are not doing their jobs by taking responsibility for the properties that they have foreclosed on.

"If this ordinance is not passed by our commissioners, you will continue to see the blight in our community continue. It will become even worse because the banks don't care. It is something that is overwhelming Code Enforcement. We need action and we need it now.

"Lehigh can do this. It has done other things to improve this community and if we all speak loud and clear with one voice, we can make this happen," Anglickis said.

She urged everyone to clip out the box accompanying this article and mail it to the Lee County Commission.

"Time is of the essence. August 13 is fast approaching. Let's act together now and do what we know must be done," Anglickis said.



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